Danielle Oum, Chair WHG

Convene Customer Success

Walsall Housing Group (WHG)

Sarah Johnson and Aimee Brown from WHG's Governance team give us their insight into switching providers and the benefits of Convene

Image: Danielle Oum, Chair.

"When time is so precious, Convene saves it right the way down to creating a simple agenda. It’s a time saver that is quick and easy to use"

WHG are one of the Midlands’ leading and most successful providers of good quality, affordable homes.

Please describe the structure of your Board

We have 12 members of the WH Board at the top of our governance structure. Under that we have four committees. There are six members in each committee and the chair of each committee is a Board member. In other words each committee has work delegated to them by the Board. Then we have six subsidiary companies with a variety of Board members on those, some of them are WHG members and some of them are Group Executive members, for example Corporate directors. We have approx. 25 people in the Governance structure on the Board and in committees

The Group Executive meets fortnightly, and the committees meet quarterly. We have 8 Board meetings scheduled for this year. The subsidiaries meet 3-4 times per year and then in addition to that we have quarterly committee member training events all of which we use Convene for. We also have an annual Board development day and after we have Board meetings then they hold Board information sessions.

We do have a lot of meetings! We are putting a meeting on Convene pretty much every other week currently. We currently have approximately 80 Convene users and use the system extensively. Not just for our Board and committee meetings, but also for our Executive team meetings.

On Convene they will have a meeting pack ready and available which allows for some dialogue ahead of prior to the actual meeting. We use it for our policy group meetings, and more recently our Risk panel meetings during the pandemic. For meetings that we used to hold in person where we were emailing out papers, we now use Convene instead.

What were the original reasons for switching to Convene from another provider?

We had been using Virtual Boardroom from 2014, and a number of factors prompted us to conduct a review which took place in 2016. At that particular time, a lot of new providers had entered the market which encouraged us to look more closely at the competition in order to find out if another provider would offer potential cost savings, or a different service that offered better value for money.

There were some technical issues with Virtual Boardroom. We did receive advance notice of an upgrade, however the upgrade resulted in the loss of all annotated documents and unfortunately we received no suggestions or solutions to enable us to efficiently save any historic annotations from the app to prevent total loss.

In addition, there were changes to the administration side of the system. It became necessary to upload all documents as PDF’s in order to maintain the original formatting which therefore added to an already lengthy process of creating a meeting pack on Virtual Boardroom’s slow running web platform.

The other providers we considered in our review were considerably more expensive than Virtual Boardroom. Convene was a slightly more expensive system than Virtual Boardroom, however, Convene demonstrated a customer centric approach and offered a 10% discount for taking a three-year contract.

What are the main benefits of Convene as far as meeting preparation is concerned?

Without Convene, meeting preparation would be very extensive! I have witnessed meeting pack preparation in previous employers that I have worked with, and all the copying distribution and meeting posting deadlines was very intensive. We have more meetings now than we have ever had, and it is obviously so much easier to prepare an electronic pack than paper ones.

The size of our meeting packs varies. In our upcoming meeting we have 24 agenda items, so we are talking 200 odd pages. During the pandemic we have moved some of the papers that are used primarily for noting to be purely dealt with on Convene, however our Corporate Director would also like us to look at using Convene for decision papers that could be discussed virtually, and to also use the Voting function. Streamlining is an objective for us.

The system is easy to use, and the meeting packs are easy to prepare. The challenges we face are not to do with Convene, they are more to do with getting papers submitted in time for the deadline! We have to do extensive proof reading owing to rigorous quality checks for example something that could be missed by the spell checker.

As far as time saving is concerned, Convene really help since it allows us to clone a pack from a previous one. This is great because we have a number of “standing” agenda items, so we use a previous pack as our starting point which saves us a lot of time.

Which Convene features are the most beneficial?

We use Resolutions section a lot to get Board approval for issues that may come up between meetings that do not require too much discussion, so it is an agile tool for us. Because we are a registered charity, we have to have a programme for disposing of our assets which we do either because of a shared ownership sale, or for instances when a property is no longer viable and is sold at auction. Trustee consent is needed for situations where we give electric companies leave to cross our land for installations and others so permission must be sought from our trustees.

We use the Review Room for our Board and Committee member appraisals, so it is simple for us to drop self-appraisal forms into the Review Room for the person being reviewed, and of course it is used for the Board and committee packs.

We use the Document Library a lot for supplementary documents, and we also publish a Board and committee member briefing pack, so we use it for that.

How has Convene helped you as far as security is concerned?

Pre pandemic all the papers would be on Convene but only the members of the Exec layer had access. Recently they have increased the access to meeting papers but have used Convene to restrict access in some situations – in short to ensure that any material is viewed by the intended audience only, so this is useful. In our team we have held a number of Board and Committee training sessions, part of which were aimed at the Board only. What we have done in the past is to create two packs, one for the Board and one for the committee members. However, the most recent time we did this, we created one pack but restricted the Board only section, so that worked well both in terms of time and also security.

How have your users taken to Convene?

Everyone is now au fait with the system. We find that Convene is easy to grasp for new people as it is uncomplicated. We have a handful of members who are also members with other organisations who use different software and shared the benefits of the ones they were using, however as said, this did not result in a move away from Convene.

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